President Barack Obama is expected to soon issue a new directive on his efforts to drastically reduce U.S. nuclear forces. It would be the latest marker in his stated goal of eliminating such weapons worldwide.
His administration intends to reduce the U.S. strategic nuclear arsenal from current levels of more than 1,700 warheads to an estimated 1,000, according to published reports.
Sources say the president was prepared to make such an announcement in his Feb. 12 State of the Union address, but it was delayed after North Korea conducted its third nuclear test earlier that day.
The unilateral drawdown is part of a long-term policy shift from the Cold War legacy of a nuclear arms posture that pitted the United States against the former Soviet Union. The Obama administration is now focused on the prevention of nuclear proliferation and terrorism using minimal U.S. resources.
“Our greatest nuclear threat is no longer a large-scale nuclear exchange, but the danger that terrorists could acquire nuclear materials or, worse, a nuclear weapon,” Rose Gottemoeller, acting under secretary of state for arms control and international security, said last week.
The president’s policy change faces stiff resistance in Congress.
“What the president is proposing would be dangerous,” Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn of Colorado tells Newsmax. “As the U.S. scales back, we would end up with more danger to ourselves and more nuclear weapons.”
Lamborn serves on the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces. He argues that unilaterally drawing down nuclear weapons will cause other nations currently under U.S protection to initiate or advance their own nuclear weapons programs.
“When you reduce your power, you invite aggression and you create danger,” he said.
Obama first outlined his commitment “to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons” in a 2009 speech in Prague.
“As the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act,” he said at the time. “We cannot succeed in this endeavor alone, but we can lead it, we can start it.”
He pledged to reduce the role of such weapons in U.S. national security strategy to a level that exists solely to deter their use by other nuclear states.
The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New Start) signed in 2010 limits the United States and Russia to an accountable 1,550 deployed warheads. Today, the United States deploys an estimated 1,700 accountable strategic nuclear warheads and Russia deploys some 1,500 strategic warheads.
Other than Russia, China is the only other potential nuclear adversary that can currently launch nuclear weapons against the U.S. homeland. Arms Control Association Executive Director Daryl Kimball tells Newsmax that China possesses 50 to 75 warheads on intercontinental-range missiles.
Others put that number much higher. A Georgetown University team led by Phillip Karber, president of The Potomac Foundation, conducted a three-year study on China’s 3,000-mile tunnel system in 2011.
Their report concluded that as many as 3,000 nuclear warheads could be hidden in the vast underground complex.
Critics say that a minimal deterrence strategy amounts to deterrence by bluff. It positions weapons to target economic and population centers that the United States would never attack as opposed to an enemy’s military leadership and weaponry.
“The worst part about it is that it is a very transparent bluff,” Baker Spring, a research fellow in national security policy at the Heritage Foundation, tells Newsmax.
Rogue states such as Iran and North Korea are actively pursuing their nuclear ambitions and are likely less concerned about whether established nuclear powers would target their civilian populations.
An effective deterrence strategy would require that the United States position its weapons toward the adversarial military leadership and installations, according to Baker.
“Conveying deterrence is made convincing by declaring U.S. nuclear policy as there being a circumstance where the United States would use [its weapons],” Baker said.
Frank Gaffney, the founder and president of the Center for Security Policy, questions the effectiveness of U.S. nuclear weapons in fulfilling a minimal role.
Russia and China are currently modernizing their nuclear capabilities as the United States draws down its own, according to a 2010 Nuclear Posture Review, which is a road map for implementing the president’s agenda outlined in his 2009 Prague speech.
The document identifies the need for a modern nuclear infrastructure and highly skilled workforce to manage the current stockpile. “By certifying the reliability of each weapon we retain, the United States can credibly assure non-nuclear allies and partners that they need not build their own, while seeking greater stockpile reductions than otherwise possible.”
Gaffney agrees that the United States needs a robust deterrent that is appropriate for a sizable and increasingly complex mission. However, the United States has unilaterally not conducted a test since 1992.
Gaffney tells Newsmax that the U.S. nuclear-weapons stockpile is quickly becoming obsolete because of platforms dating as far back as the Manhattan Project in the 1940s and an over-reliance on computer modeling instead of real-world testing.
“How on earth do you know that they would actually work?” Gaffney said. “This is one of the dirtiest little secrets in our country, and I think the American people would be horrified if they knew.”
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